Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stuff I Didn't Know About Josh Willingham

He’s Kind Of A Catcher

As a 23-year-old, after a couple of years in the Marlins organization, Willingham began playing catcher. Over the next few years he spent most of his time in the minors behind the plate, playing 60 of 66 games there in AAA. In fact, his first promotion to the majors happened because an ex-Twins catcher was experiencing back stiffness. It was Mike Redmond.

But catching didn’t last. The plan going into 2006 was for Willingham to get extensive catcher-specific coaching from manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Gary Tuck, who is often credited for molding Jorge Posada into a capable catcher. They worked with him all spring, but on Opening Day he was their left fielder. Even then they planned on him catching a couple of days per week, but by the end of April, he was the full time left fielder. He hasn’t caught since.

In the majors, he’s been almost completely a left fielder, laying there 662 in 799 games. While he’s only played first base for four innings in the majors, it’s worth noting that he played all around in the minors, including 119 games at 3B and 68 games at 1B. In fact, in the minors, he was viewed as a possible utility player, though not a middle infield utility player.

Of course, the Twins need a right fielder, since it makes zero sense for Ben Revere’s exceptional range and suspect arm to play in Target Field’s tiny right field. Willingham has only played right field 35 times in his professional career. If the move to right field is a deal breaker, the Twins are going to need to do some roster shuffling – or still go get a right fielder.

He’s Been Injured, But Not THAT Injured

Looking at Willingham’s injury history, one sees lots of indeterminate injuries like a bad back, sore knees and stiff neck. These aren’t exactly injuries that play to the Twins medical (limited) strengths. But the good news is that while his injuries often sideline him for a couple of days, he hasn’t lost too much time to the DL.

Not that there haven’t been some serious issues. He had a brutal September in 2007 due to a herniated disc and it sounds like he needs to lots of maintenance to keep his back strong and healthy. In his first year of catching (2003), he ended up have meniscus surgery on his right knee. Just a couple of years ago his season ended in mid-August because of surgery on his other knee. He’s also been on the DL for an Achilles strain (last year) and a stress fracture in his arm cost him a couple of months back in 2005.

But the reports almost always have him coming back from lesser problems after a couple of days of rest. Given the organization’s frustrations with players sitting out with nagging injuries, it’s easy to speculate that Willingham is viewed a gamer who toughs things out.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gleeman & the Geek Episode 19: Three Amigos

Seth Stohs (over there on the right) joins us to talk Twins news, straighten us out on the farm system and reflect on a decade of blogging.

Or, you listen by clicking on the image below.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cuddyer's Timeline

There has been lots of talk about Michael Cuddyer recently, primarily due to the Twins 3-year/$25 million contract offer. The natural conclusion, given all that chatter and at least one hard offer, was that a decision would be made soon. That hasn't happened.

News broke yesterday that the Twins are considered one of two finalists for Josh Willingham, another right-handed right fielder with 30 HR power. If Willingham were to agree to an offer with the Twins, it would essentially end Cuddyer's Twins career, as the Twins apparently can't afford both. Again, these report suggest a decision will be made soon.

I'm not at all confident that is going to happen.

There is a certain hierarchy to free agent signings and believe it or not, it has nothing to do with "setting the market." That is a myth. Just because some team paid a certain amount for one player doesn't mean that another team needs to pay a similar amount for a similar player. To get that similar player, you just need to have a better offer than the other teams.

Instead, the hierarchy works for logical reasons, by which I mean greed. Given two players, a team wants the better one. Once that player is gone, they want the next best one. And so on.

Want to know why you haven't heard too much about teams pursuing Cuddyer yet? Because they've been pursuing other, better players. There are two right-handed slugging free agents who are much better than Cuddyer (Albert Pujols & Aramis Ramirez), and two more that are comparable (Carlos Beltran & Willingham). Only one of those four players have signed, and it was Pujols on Thursday. Sure enough, reports are that the Cardinals are considering replacing his bat with Beltran. The Marlins and a mystery team also missed out on Pujols. Guess what they're likely shopping for right now?

It's not unusual for free agents to sign before the higher-rated players, but it's unusual for them to do so for a lot less than the market expected. The Twins offer to Cuddyer was considerably less than the market expected. It shouldn't surprise us it wasn't snapped up.
The situation with Willingham is similar. The Rockies, for instance, have already made it clear they might be interested in Willinham IF they don't get Cuddyer. So why would Willingham sign before Cuddyer?

There are other advantages to waiting, too. The Phillies made it clear they valued Cuddyer, but have been trying to work out a deal with shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Depending on how much they spend on him, they might be able to re-enter discussions with Cuddyer. The Red Sox have had interest in Cuddyer, clearly have a need for a corner outfielder, but have limited space before they go over the luxury tax threshold. How much they can spend might depend on whether they can trade away Marco Scutaro's contract, or can work out a multi-year deal with David Ortiz, lowering how much they pay him this year.

All the reports about contract offers and interest make it feel like there should be a speedy resolution. But logic suggests that it is in Cuddyer's and Willingham's best interests to wait this out awhile. If you've been compulsively hitting the refresh button on your favorite baseball website or twitter feed, you may want to recognize that Cuddyer's timeline may not match ours.